A sermon at Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, NY
Second Sunday of Lent, March 1, 2015
“You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things”
As I mentioned last week, Lent is about preparing for baptism. This Lent I will be talking about how the scriptures guide us more deeply into our life as baptized Christians.
So Jesus starts us right out: he “began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering…” And his friend and most senior colleague, Peter, takes him aside. And he tells him, “This is a really bad marketing strategy.” “Who wants to hear about suffering and being killed and dying and all that?” “Let’s tweak the message a little—healings, and that Kingdom of God thing, that is an image with legs…let’s go with that—lay off the suffering and dying thing.”
So, of course, Jesus said, “OK, I’ll try to be more positive, we wouldn’t want to put people off, I’ll try to work with your marketing strategy.” Maybe I should read exactly how he said it, I have it copied down here:
“He rebuked Peter and said, ‘GET BEHIND ME SATAN! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’”
So maybe Jesus wasn’t quite so interested in the marketing plan.
Jesus was describing the real life that he lived and the life of those who are baptized. After all, we are baptized into Jesus’ death. Make no mistake, that death was real, and it was the consequence of Jesus’ life—a consequence that he accepted fully, because he was fully accountable for his life. But sometimes we get wrapped up in the dramatic and the extreme and miss out on how Jesus’ death applies to our life and our baptism as ordinary Christians.
It did not take magic foresight for Jesus to realize that he would be rejected and indeed killed—rejection is a consequence of telling and living the truth. We like to avoid that. Those who smugly think that they are better than Peter in this are avoiding this truth more than he did. Jesus was the free-est person who ever lived. He spoke truth with a depth and loved people in proportion to that freedom. Jesus was not the most confrontational person in the Roman Empire or in first century Palestine, but the depth with which he lived the truth was extraordinarily threatening to those who wanted to control everything, especially to manipulate the message of religion and hold on to the power of state. The response to Jesus was big, and dramatic, because he lived the Truth with complete freedom and love that could not be missed.
Living the truth in a big way, and suffering rejection and violence in a big way does not happen suddenly. It follows after living the truth in small ways and small details, and taking the consequences of one’s actions. We are baptized into Christ’s death. We are baptized into the consequences of being free. To stand for the dignity of others, even though there will be a price to be paid.
We know stories of people who did that in big ways and paid the ultimate price: Malcolm X, just a week over 50 years ago, Martin Luther King, Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was murdered in 1980 for speaking out for the poor and oppressed in El Salvador.
But in fact each of us is faced with situations where it might be easier just to go along, just to accept something bad happening, perhaps to someone else, or to profit from a little untruth or a little meanness. Of course, some use the label of “truth-telling” to be harsh and destructive to others, but the person who is free, is the one who accepts the consequences of her or his actions and has courage to be loving when there is a price to be paid for it. It takes courage to refrain from giving false comfort, it takes courage to enter conversations where people are not going to be in agreement, and yet those are the conversations where Christian community arises.
In the reading this morning from the Letter to the Romans, Paul talks about Abraham being justified by faith and not by works. But what made Abraham a righteous man, the one whom God chose for his Covenant? It was the way he lived his life, in simplicity, in honesty—by feeding the strangers who passed by. The strangers who turned out to be angels who told him that he would have a child so very late in his life, that he would become a father of many nations.
In baptism, we die to falseness and we die to fear and we rise into a future of hope and community that is not superficial but founded on our sharing that baptism and that truth of Christ, who was rejected for living the truth, and the light of whose love revealed the falseness of the selfish. The way of God is not the way of convenience or of easy safety. He says: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
We follow Christ to the altar, and in receiving his Body and Blood, we are bound into this baptism, the way of Truth and Life. Let us live our lives in thanks to God and share in his perfect freedom.